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Beekeeping Techniques

A Cornwall Honey beekeeper

Apiaries require an ample supply of nectar and pollen and are usually kept where nectar-producing plants such as clover or eucalyptus are abundant. Some beekeepers transport their bees to suitable foraging ground, these are known as migratory apiaries. Apiaries may consist of 1 to 200 hives, depending on the means of the beekeeper and the flower resources available.

Commercial beekeepers that make their entire living from bees often keep hundreds or thousands of hives. Keepers also abide by the three rule, this is a theory that most keepers stick to - do not move the hive more than three feet (1 metre) in one move, but you can move it more than three miles (5 kilometres). This is because the bee forages to a distance of three miles but if the hive has been moved more than three feet they get disorientated and cannot locate the hive. Move the hive either small distances at a time in the apiary or to re-locate you must move it more than three miles, away from familiar ground. Re-open once re-located and settled.

In the UK beekeepers have standardized their equipment, using boxes (called supers) that hold eleven wood-bound comb frames. The brood box where the Queen lays and the young bees are reared is the nest of the hive, this box often holds eleven wooden-bound comb frames and is larger than the supers. The brood box goes at the bottom with the supers above, these are in place to collect the surplus honey, which is harvested by the beekeeper. A grill called the Queen excluder is placed between the brood and first super box in order to keep the Queen and drones out of the supers, this prevents the Queen laying in the combs in the super and the drones eating the supplies. All that is stored in the supers can be harvested because it is all honey. The supers can be filled up rapidly during a good honey producing season and can be removed from the hive around August at the end of the season.

Diagram of a typical hive
The typical components of a beehive

There are some modern alternatives to the wooden hives, which vary in style and size. You can obtain polystyrene hives, plastic frames and other equipment made from various modern materials.Some hive designs include: WBC, British National, Smith, Langstroth, Dadant and commercial.

These can be used with a variety of frames and foundation. Frames can be wooden or plastic and they hold the wax foundation which is drawn out by the bees for storage of honey, pollen and brood. These are suspended inside the hive with a bee space and this provides the bees the opportunity to move around and use the hive like a natural home but also provides the beekeeper with a form of management control.

Good husbandry and hygiene is very important in order to maintain a healthy hive. Advantages of wooden hives are that you can scorch the inside to sterilize them, whilst plastic can be cleaned with hot water and disinfectants. Both methods help to provide a hygienic, clean environment for the bees to live in.

A wooden frame
A wooden frame

Above is a picture of a Wired Wax Foundation supported in a wooden brood frame. The wire helps to support the wax as when full with honey or brood it can weigh several kilograms and could fall out of the frame during inspection.

A plastic frame
A plastic frame

Above is a picture of a Wired foundation in a plastic super frame, this frame has centre supports that can hold unwired foundation. Plastic frames last for years and can be cleaned easily with hot water.

Honeybees are adaptable insects that can survive under a variety of situations and conditions. However, insecticides kill and weaken thousands of colonies each year. Beekeepers who rent their colonies for pollination also expect some loss of bees that drink from contaminated pools. Honey itself is generally free from insecticides, because when a food source becomes contaminated, the colony is killed or weakened, and so the bees cannot produce a surplus for harvest. Other problems facing beekeepers include loss of forage due to habitat destruction by humans, parasitic mites, bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases.

Honey is a natural sweetener and source of carbohydrates. Honey is believed to have health giving properties and has been proved to have a healing effect on open wounds. It draws moisture from the wound, which protects from further infection, and also has antiseptic properties that destroy local infection. Please see our health benefits section for further details.

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